2023 Steelers Season Recall: Steelers surprise with offensive flurry against the Raiders

Steel City Underground presents our 2023 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered Week 3 of the NFL regular season after a rocky start in their first two games. With each of their first two contests played at home, the Steelers struggled on offense while showing the previous week that their defense was more than capable of propping up the team.

Week 3’s matchup would be another primetime game, this time against the Las Vegas Raiders. It would be the Raiders home opener, and the first time that the Steelers would be playing since the franchise relocated.

Steelers fans were trying to figure out if the first two games were the result of playing against good defenses, or if this Pittsburgh team wasn’t the same one, they saw light up the scoreboard during the preseason.

They would soon have their surprising answer, though it didn’t begin that way (and it still wasn’t pretty!)

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The Steelers offense would take the field first, running the football all three downs. Najee Harris gained four and five yards on his first two carries, but then offensive coordinator Matt Canada tried to fool everyone and had QB Kenny Pickett hand off to Connor Heyward for no gain on third down. The Steelers would punt.

Vegas failed to convert on their first series, also going three and out, but a nice Calvin Austin scamper out to the logo would be setback by a James Pierre holding penalty. Starting at their own 23-yard-line, the Steelers stayed conservative again on first down, with Harris gaining four yards. Pickett would attempt his first two passes thereafter, both incomplete, as the offense stalled with another three-and-out.

The Raiders took advantage from here. Gaining ground, a would-be fumble was reversed during replay review, giving Las Vegas new life. They would march 74 yards in 7 plays, with a 32-yard connection from QB Jimmy Garoppolo to Davante Adams finishing in a TD.

The Steelers surprises started right after, as the offense matched the Raiders score with Pickett delivering a 72-yard bomb to Austin to tie the game at seven apiece.

The Steelers would never trail from this point forward, but the offense still sputtered at times. Chris Boswell would deliver the next three scores with field goals of 43, 42, and 57 yards. In fact, the Steelers would only punt once between the Austin touchdown and another strike from Pickett to TE Pat Freiermuth in the third quarter that put Pittsburgh up 23-7.

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Yet, the game was far from over. Oftentimes it felt as if the Steelers were intentionally trying to keep the Raiders in the game.

At the end of the first half, there was still time on the clock and they had two timeouts. Instead of trying to attempt to put more points on the scoreboard, they simply let the time run out. Interesting, but not completely ridiculous.

In the fourth quarter, though, with only a five-point lead, Pittsburgh ran three run plays that were obvious and sniffed out easily resulting in a loss of downs and yardage. They couldn’t have looked any more like they were purposefully giving the Raiders another shot to possibly go on a game-winning drive than if they’d put up a billboard outside Acrisure Stadium on Friday.

Only thanks to a nice Pressley Harvin punt that was muffed and recovered by the Raiders did the Steelers prevent a real comeback from Garoppolo and Las Vegas. The punt play took a huge chunk of time off the game clock. And the result, eventually, was that Garoppolo threw an errant pass that ended up being intercepted. It would be Jimmy G’s third interception of the game, as the Steelers defense sealed a 23-18 victory and improved to 2-1 on the season.

While Pickett looked more impressive than he had all season (this would be his first multiple touchdown game as a pro) his 57.1% completion rate and 235 passing yards (72 of which came on the Austin deep pass) kept fans from being too optimistic. The defense was also a bend but don’t break observation, as they allowed the Raiders to have possessions of 10, 11, and 9 plays all in the fourth quarter.

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Despite some struggles early, the offense leaned on running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren to setup the ground game. Compared to 28 pass attempts, the Steelers would run the ball 31 times, with – get this – 28 of those as designed runs. (The other three were by Pickett, with two of those as QB scrambles.)

In total the Steelers outgained the Raiders 105 to 69 despite Las Vegas having last year’s rushing leader Josh Jacobs.

T.J. Watt, who entered the weekend as the league’s sack leader, finished the game by adding two more sacks to his six on the season, including three quarterback hits and two tackles for loss. Watt was also responsible for the pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo’s interception by Levi Wallace. Both sacks also led to Las Vegas going three-and-out on those respective drives.

Most surprising in this game, however, was the Steelers hadn’t won a road game traveling to the Raiders since December 10th, 1995! They had lost their previous four matchups (2006, 2012, 2013, 2018) which were all played in Oakland. Still, there was skepticism on the road ahead despite the 2-1 start to the season.

Next up would be a Week 4 trip to another dome stadium in Houston, as the Steelers would face rookie QB C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans. Join us next week as we continue looking back at last year’s games in our weekly recall series.

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